Kahina watched as Seti flung himself over the side of the railing and dropped out of sight. Her breath caught, and she rushed over to the banister, half hanging over it, to see Seti disappear down the hallway that led to the kitchen. She still felt like crying, but there was too much shock getting in the way–she was about to lose the two most influential people in her life, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
Kahina feared for some time Seti didn’t even like her, let alone love her enough to go through with the marriage, but he was doing this for her, or at least for Junaid, which was still incredible. All she had to do was ask; she had seen the hatred in his eyes as he looked at her parents, and Kahina knew that he was the only person who seemed to care as much for Junaid as she still did, regardless of whether or not he could use magic. Somehow, it made her love Seti more than she had before, and it made her heart ache more at the thought of never seeing him again, that he might die for helping her family.
Was there anything she could do? If she helped Junaid escape herself, she wouldn’t be able to return to her life, her friends, her home. The question was, did she even care about these things, or was it worth giving everything up to help them escape the city alive?
Without allowing herself to think any longer, Kahina ran down the stairs. She vaguely heard her parents call out to her–plead for her to come back, that they wouldn’t say anything once the city guard showed up–but she refused to have her mind changed. If Junaid and Seti were the most important people in her life, she was going to do whatever it took to stay with them. Selfish, maybe, but she couldn’t imagine a life without her little brother. And her parents had abandoned him so quickly it made her stomach ache. She had believed her whole life that they knew what was best for her until Seti came along, and she started to question. There were no questions–they would have done the same if it had been her.
Kahina reached the bottom of the staircase, miraculously without falling on her face, and rushed towards the cellar. Junaid had been her best friend, and she had taken care of him in a way their mother never had. He needed her, and she was going to be there for him.
She reached the kitchen where someone had cut the door to the cellar into the floor. It had been buried by furniture and whatever else the servants found to keep the door closed. Seti was already wildly throwing the items to the side, only hesitating when he caught sight of her.
Kahina went over to the pile and started to push at an upside-down table near the bottom. “Help me tip this over,” she said. “It will be faster to work from the bottom.”
Seti–looking at her with apprehension and maybe a bit of respect–nodded. He worked his hands underneath the table and, planting his feet firmly, started to lift along with the rest of the pile.
“See if you can get the door open,” Seti said, teeth clenched. “Maybe he can slip out.”
“Sure,” Kahina said and knelt to try the door. She tried to ignore the looming weight as she reached into the darkness beneath and felt for the handle. “Junaid, can you hear me? It’s Kahina.” She finally felt metal and took hold of the ring to open the door. Ignoring the pain in her fingers, she pulled.
Nothing happened. Kahina didn’t have the right angle to get the door open, or maybe there was still too much weight on it for her to do anything. For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, Kahina cursed loudly.
“Junaid, I need you to push on the door. I won’t be able to open it on my own. Please, let me help you get away from here.” She put everything she was feeling, all the desperation and frustration and hatred for the people outside, into her voice and willed her brother to respond.
The door lifted slightly beneath her hand. “Kahina,” Junaid said. Her heart raced even faster. She was going to save him. She shifted her position, careful not to bump into Seti’s feet, and pulled with everything she had on the door handle. A prayer tumbled out of her lips as she felt her fingers pop in their joints. Tears stung her eyes, but she ignored them.
Finally, the door began to open–agonizingly slowly. Kahina was aware of talking to her brother, but she couldn’t hear him properly over the rushing in her ears. Her whole body ached with the strain, and still, she pulled on that Gods’ cursed door.
With a feral yell, the pile above her head shifted. Then, with what felt like a wave of heat, it was hurled to the side.
The door whipped open, and Kahina was pulled forward by it, almost falling into the cellar below.
“Kahina?” Junaid’s voice was so close now, and Kahina, steadying herself again, reached down into the cellar and felt a hand grab hers. She pulled Junaid up into the kitchen and clutched him to her. He shook in her arms, but at least he was still alive for the moment.
She made herself pull away and looked him over. There didn’t seem to be any injuries, which was good–it meant he could travel.
Kahina looked over to where Seti was lying on the floor; his eyes shut tightly as his chest rapidly raised and fell. “Will you be able to keep moving, Seti?” Kahina asked.
His eyes opened, and he looked at her. He smiled, that warm, ridiculously wide smile that he used when he meant it. “You know a good way out of here?”
Kahina took a breath and willed her thoughts to stop jumping around frantically. There had to be a way for servants to enter the kitchen other than the main entrances, but where? She hadn’t spent much time in this part of the house. But Junaid had.
She looked at her brother. His eyes were wild with fear and confusion, but when they met her, something seemed to soften in them. For a heartbeat, there was silence. Then Junaid got up and moved through the kitchen and over to a curtained entrance to the passageway to the servants’ quarters.
Kahina got to her feet and offered Seti a hand. He took it and got to his feet too, but he didn’t let go of her hand right away. “Do you still want my help?” he said. “You’re better at this rescuing thing than you think.”
“Come with us,” she said. “They’ll kill you if you stay here.”
Seti raised his eyebrows at her.
Cheers sounded from the crowd outside, and they all tensed. Kahina guessed the city guard had shown up.
Without another word, Kahina and Seti joined Junaid in the passageway, stepping over discarded furniture and cookware.
How had he lifted all of it at once? Kahina thought. And that increase in temperature right before he moved everything. Did I imagine that?
The darkness in Seti’s eyes when he looked at her parents came back to her. He had been so willing to help an accused magic-user.
They passed some of the servants as they moved through the house, but no one tried to stop them–most escaped into the closest open room at the sight of Junaid barreling towards them. For once, she was glad most people were terrified of magic. She was one of those people, but somehow she couldn’t connect her brother with the horrific stories she had been told her whole life. She hadn’t even thought about it before she embraced him. Her parents had said he was a Sizzler, which meant he could expel acid from his skin, and she had hugged him without hesitation. She hated the shiver that went through her at the thought.
They reached a door that led to a courtyard. Earlier in the day, there would have been stalls covering the tiled space, but most had packed up for the day with the sun about to set. Seti stepped out first, scanning the area. There was an efficiency to how he did it that made Kahina think this was something he had done before. Something else I’ll have to ask about later if there was an after. He motioned for them to stay close to him, then started moving quickly across space. Kahina was convinced there were weapons trained on them from the way he was acting. She had the insane need to giggle at that but found herself scanning nearby rooftops instead.
They spent the next few blocks in silence, weaving through back streets and alleyways that Kahina had never noticed before. A couple of times, she thought she heard something close by, but when Kahina looked, she couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, it didn’t mean it wasn’t there. She stayed as close to Seti as she could without getting in his way. She did start to wonder where exactly it was they were going–mostly if there was any specific location in mind at all. When the temple came into view and it was apparent they were moving towards it, she was a tad apprehensive.